On the American rite of passage
Goodness. You seem to be the kind of person who laughs at the concept of personal space. Living alone is a "rite of passage"? A commune? Really? I'll never understand people who are able and willing to put up with people's shit every single day, from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to bed. I just can't. I've lived with people my entire life and it was always filled with misery, I hated every bit of it. Unfortunately I still live with people and I hate it more than ever. I've never been more sleep deprived than I am now, I've never lived in a house that's so messy and loud, all thanks to my roommates (my sister and her kids), so maybe this is why I'm answering to this so bitterly, I'm just exhausted and it's taking a toll on my mental health. I can't wait to be living on my own, surrounded by peace and silence, in a clean and organized house, not being forced to interact when I don't feel like it, being able to sleep properly, stuff like that. That sounds like heaven to me. And to me, you're insane, I can't believe you wrote this. I wish we could exchange places so you can truly see what's living with other people. Of course, I would kick your partner out so I could live on your apartment alone. You will love the experience, I'm sure.
I have had very few "living alone" moments in my 44 years. I am one of 8 children, so never even had my own room until I was in my 20's. When I divorced, I was given full custody of my child, who visited his father only on the weekends. I have had my own room for almost 8 years following that, and then last year he moved in with his father and visited me on the weekends, until I moved into an RV with my partner, who I've been living with for the past year (we dated for 3 years, happy to live separately). I have had roommates - those often turned out horribly, because most people don't know how to live with others, something was required growing up! So I did airbnb for a while. Then, after a horrific car accident in which I suffered a broken back and brain injury, I tried the "communal" living and moved in with another mom and her sons. It was even more disastrous than having roommates. I used to have the strong ideal of communal living, but my observation is that most people really don't understand what that means or how to do that because they've grown up in homes where they've had their own rooms, there's more than one bathroom, and their parents had more than one car, etc. You have to really be attuned to others - know how to share, how to think considerately of others, make sacrifices, etc. Even I am not good at this, and I had some practice! Some of my siblings have larger families or have big homes where they love having a lot of people around them, this is not me. I like it just being with my quiet, introverted partner and myself.
I also dream of living in a commune!
I definitely think atomized family units are a heteronormative tool of capitalism to make people consume more stuff and alienate us from each other in a way that conceals our collective power, and there's some solid evidence to back that up.
But putting aside the nefarious political/commercial intentions of this cultural norm, I wonder if the real estate market will ever see the desire many people have for communal living as an opportunity to make more money and create new homes based on that. Most people I know LOVE this idea. Like, where are the estates where multiple families/units have some private spaces (bathrooms, bedrooms, maybe even kitchens and small living rooms) but share other areas (dining rooms, conversation pits, gardens, patios, etc)? The way our homes are designed informs so much about how we live our lives, I think we need more creative, communal structures to thrive as a species. Even though I love the privacy of only living with my husband and our animals, I would also love to have a more organic sense of community and a chosen extended family around when I wanted to hang. I think there are certainly ways you can have it all -- the privacy and the connection -- but the physical spaces that would support this haven't been made available to most of us yet.
I also think there's a real loss of wisdom, perspective, and certain forms of love when people only live with people their own age. I forget who said this, but they've done studies on different kinds of learning environments, and what they've found is that having classes with kids spanning across a wide age range resulted in dramatically less bullying and improved academic performance. The older kids felt like they should be role models to younger ones, which helped instill a culture that doesn't tolerate bullying and helped them be more engaged with learning. I think about that and wonder what we're not learning by hanging out mostly with people our own age.
Anyway, here are a couple interesting examples I think about when this topic comes up, in case you're interested!
This resonates with me deeply because I am an (older) college student still living with my parents. I missed the opportunity by going away for college and life had other plans for me. Now that everyone I grew up with is graduated and moving on with their lives I feel doubly scorned as the one still finishing undergrad and living with her parents. I feel as if I am behind and haven’t fully transitioned into adulthood or mastered any semblance of independence. As you said independence is somehow equated to being able to live alone and provide for yourself financially. Leaving me feeling deprived of freedoms, trapped in my parents house as a prisoner to their rules.
I'm just now reading this, but it connects to everything I've been thinking about how lonely I've felt the last few years and whether or not I'm an introvert. I think I like having my own little space, but with the right people, my own space could be a corner of a couch with a book. I would love to live with other people, but it needs to be people I know and love and trust. The thing with the nuclear family is people have been encouraged to pair off into this tiny insular families and they easily cut other people out. So if you're single like me and without a consistent connection, you lose that casual intimacy. I was running errands the other day and had some time so I called a friend and I went and sat on her couch for a bit and we chatted and then I headed out for a couple more errands. And I got home thinking what a difference it would make to have someone in the next room, or downstairs, or a block away where I could just pop in for that kind of connection. I'm not sure about what exactly I need to change about my current living situation (roommates, new city, etc.), but I know that this isn't sustainable as it is.
Hey, I'm late to the party, but as a young sociologist and one specialised on environment, two important things came to mind that I didn't see in the comments:
- Interestingly you revert back to those ideas of what's "natural" throughout the essay and I wouldn't be surprised if this is something in the back of your mind, but the idea of organising individually / alone and a general rejection of the interdependence inherent to life is definitely characteristic of Western modernity. This reverts back to a clear seperation between men and nature, or rather, men's domination of nature through technique. In this light, having someone be able to live alone a space and still have all its needs met (supposedly) thanks to the means offered by the society of consumption is the ultimate way for capitalism deliver the semblance of independance, achieve the ideal of man having dominated nature and prove its 'success'.
- Like many social phenomenons and as the comments suggest, it does however really depend on context. These conceptions vary on many accounts depending on the urban (or else, but individual living is an urban phenomenon which is itself a modern phenomenon) and ideological structures people are surrounded with. The opportunities (most importantly financial) to achieve the goal and ideas associated with it will vary deeply between NY, LA, Berlin or Mumbai!
-There's probably a thought to be had with the evolution of women in the workforce and wanting to live alone as dependance with a man can be considered quite risky.
-Last side note: The subject of living alone and how contreived vs desirable it had been throughout society, as well as identifying the mechanisms which make it more or less prevalent, would make a great thesis, lol.
On a personal level: I currently live alone for financial and practical reason, but as soon as we can afford it my sister and I plan to live together. I love living alone for many of the advantages cited by other contributors, but as a serial single girl, I find it indispensable to live with other people and this feeling grows stronger the older I get. It is already so hard to maintain social bonds in vast capitalistic metropoles, but it is only valuable if you find people you are truly comfortable with. :)
Last year was my first time moving out on my own at age 27. Circumstances accelerated that timeline, but it was something I planned to do eventually anyway. I've always been a bit more introverted and cut off, so I truly did not anticipate how isolated I would feel. Even with a handful of friends, my family all here, and a job that forces me to be social, it's become a pretty heavy burden to bear, and I'm getting progressively worse at it. Recently, I took a solo trip to San Francisco, and it solidified something for me: I *can* do all these things things by myself, but being able to is not the same as wanting to. I'm hoping starting therapy next week will help, because wow, am I struggling. I thought this shit would be easier by now.
I'm 30, lived with roommates most of my adult life in New York and LA. I recently moved to Omaha, NE with no friends or family but simply the dream to be able to give myself the life I deserve. Part of that life is creating a "commune." I lived for a year and a half alone in LA before moving here where I am truly, devastatingly alone.
I love living alone, I realized very quickly in my first apartment that all of my roommate situations didn't work out because I need to be very removed from people in order to feel like myself. However, in my current aloneness, I'm finding it hard to balance the aloneness I need to function and the fact that I am always alone. Everything I do here has no support, here I am my only support. It's been difficult. It is difficult. Even now, I'm sitting in my apartment hearing people outside and my cat play with a can of cat food, I am alone. My online life has become richer, I'm crying at shows filmed in LA, my screen time has gone up by 35%, my friendships are deeper. I got my car stuck in the mud the other day while on a drive in the middle of nowhere (all things I didn't anticipate and would be non-issues in LA), I clawed my car out of the mud with my bare hands. I'm learning I can take care of myself, I'm building self trust but I'm also craving stability and community. Two things that feel off in the distance of my aloneness. I know I'm closer to that than I've ever been, in reality. I trust that this won't last forever. It's hard to trust.
I started working at texas roadhouse(a place my ego would prefer me not to name) because I miss the movement of the cities I lived in, the people and their smiles. This is helping, but I know I'm going to need to branch out soon. I need art, nature, design, deep meaningful conversation. I'm scared to branch out, I've been wearing my aloneness like a blanket wrapped around my body.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to write that out.
At age 57 I've lived alone more than not. I love it. I don't see it as a rite of passage - rather I think I may be deficient in my inability to share my space! I've lived with random roommates, dear friends and a husband, and I'm happier alone.
The exception: my children. I love having them around, but I still like solitude.
I had my first solo apartment as a college student and have only shared out of need - financial, generally. At this point I'd do almost anything to maintain my independent living. My dream of communal life is having friends living within a half mile radius. Even then, I'd rather they texted before dropping by.
I don't know that it's entirely healthy to live this way. We are, as you point out, social creatures. I like the idea of being in community and sharing space, but the reality make me irritable.
I just started living alone this past summer and I LOVE it. But one big reason I don't truly feel "alone" is my cat I got. He was a significant part of the reason I moved out was because my landlord didn't allow cats. I even made "permission to have cats" part of my new lease, lol. Now, there is always this thought running through my head when I'm out for drinks with friends: 'I need to go back and check in on Peach'. It's sometimes annoying but it's v comforting too. Someone is waiting for me.
Also, what's interesting is there is also the popular idea that you are more adult when you live with your partner, because it's seen as the next stepping stone to marriage, another American rite of passage. Def deal with curious q's of 'when are you going to move in with your boyfriend of three years?' It's probably my own anxiety but sometimes it does get to me.
As an introvert, I love living surrounded by people who I'm comfortable and familiar with. I lived alone for one semester in college and hated it. Today, I live with my fiance, which is still less communal of a situation than I'd like it to be (the fiance is a much more solitary individual). But, I am lucky enough to live on a block with wonderful neighbors who message each other via a neighborhood group chat. I appreciate our group chat so much that I wrote a poem about it.
Heaven in a 1950s Subdivision
My neighborhood was built for cars, not people.
Each house has one narrow driveway.
The driveways are the only paths to the backyards.
The front walks don't connect to the sidewalks.
Each house was built for independence, for finding your own way in the world,
But, my neighbors see beyond driveways.
Messages fly through the air:
Can I borrow a hole punch?
Can someone help me shovel the snow?
I heard your alarm go off. Is everything okay?
Natalia feeds Zev's chickens;
Zev gives Natalia jars of home-canned peaches;
Mavra mows John's lawn;
John snowblows Mavra's walk;
Isaac brings Mick groceries;
Mick drives Julia to art class;
Julia lends Frances her cooler;
Martha's garden grows lush and full;
She hangs bags of cucumbers and tomatoes from front door handles...
What if heaven is inside a 1950s subdivision?
What if heaven is the moment you realize none of us can get there alone?
I so loved reading this. I've had to live with my mom for the past several years due to not having the money to live alone, and I've gone through so many emotions about it. I finally realized during the pandemic that I don't actually want to live alone, I just thought I did because of societal pressure, etc.
I really enjoyed this piece! I’ve always loved the idea of living alone, but recently, mainly because of the pandemic, I suddenly found myself living with my boyfriend without having giving it much thought. Sometimes, I still catch myself thinking that I didn’t make the most of the time that I lived by myself, something I’ve always dreamed of. I also think people want to live alone for different reasons. For example, because I grew up in a house that was also a workplace for my mother with people having to work in my living room, I always wanted to have a place without people coming in and out all the time. One of my best friends decided to live alone because she had a big family and had to share a very small bedroom with two sister during her whole life, and she was feeling exhausted from always having to explain what she was doing or thinking.
I also feel like I built my identity around the idea that I can live alone without needing anyone to help me (particularly men), which historically can be linked to patriarchy always seeing women as someone’s objects who are incapable of earning a living on their own. But recently, with the experience of living with my boyfriend, I’ve been rethinking some certainties. This newsletter has opened my eye for some of them that I’ve possibly been stuck with for a while, such as still thinking I haven’t enjoyed the time I lived alone enough. At the end of the day, living with my partner has been a very enriching experience and there is no point in being nostalgic for something that has had its time in my life.
About living in a commune, I never though of it as a possibility for me, although I know some similar experiences here in Brazil (the place where I’m from and still live) – and I'm also positively impressed by the number of people thinking about it in this comment section!! Being an introvert and kind of an antisocial person, this is an idea I normally wouldn’t pay attention to, especially because I don’t possesses such a fixed and present group of friends in my life. But, at a second glance, and this may sound contradictory, knowing that I could get my needed dose of sociability without having to make the effort of scheduling a dinner with friends or having to go trough a lot of social interaction just to spend some time with a human being, somehow feels very comfortable.
I live in Dhaka, Bangladesh and I have only ever lived with my parents and two brothers. I grew up in a building where both my uncles (and their families) plus my grandma had separate apartments. It made the bonds between all of us, especially between my siblings, cousins and me incomparable. But I do want to live with more independence in the future, especially for grad school abroad. I have not thought much about my living arrangements if I am working but I imagine I would not do too well alone, especially with my mental health struggles. I think eventually if I ever have children of my own, I'd love to have them grow up in a similar way to my own.
I love, love living alone, and I also love you questioning exactly why it is we aspire to this, as it throws up so much about who we want to be, how we see ourselves, and what scares us.
I live in London - so I think there are interesting contrasts with what you say about living by yourself being an important signifier of adulthood, no longer being a child, having enough income to live solo etc - but in London the real signal of this is home ownership. All roads and decisions we make are to try get us to this path, if it is ever even possible for you to do so. This led my to think about why I really hoped, dreamed, and wanted a place of my own. I broke up a long term (10 years) relationship, and autonomity and self identity became really important to me - and my own space would be a solid and real reflection of this. But it was also about autonomy over my life - control and money. I didn't want my home to be vulnerable - in the sense of the impermenance of a relationship, breaking up and having to divide up your home and belongings again. Tearing things you've built apart because you share them. But also vulnerable to someone else finances - I wanted to look after my money, do the only thing with it (in London/ the UK anyway) that actually leads to growth and which would help me look after myself in the years ahead, as an adult (i.e. the money people make on property can outrank any earning or job you could ever do, and is grossly unequal). I've seen women in my family and social circles dropped into awful financial situations as a result of the break up of their marriages and relationships - taking on their ex-partners debt, loosing their family home, loosing their pensions - despite their years of work and sensible financial decision making. Having my own place, that I owned, was about me looking after myself.
I'm in a new relationship now, and really feel the pull of wanting to live together. However, I've not yet worked out how I feel about giving up my space, my home, and merging my money with another person. And I wonder if I ever have to?
When I ponder this, I also think about the fact the pandemic threw up some interesting reactions from people to me living alone - pity essentially - when the reality for me was so far from that. There was never a moment I regretted living alone, but those in cohabiting couples and living with/ as a family really feared my perceived lonliness. And when I think about never living with someone else, I wonder, and fear, how other people would see me. But perhaps actually I'd like to be seen as a slightly excentric woman, who won't compromise.
This reminds me of your piece about flux, or flow, what was it again? You said that we can do things maybe, we don't have to exercise or write or have a hobby forever. I think that was the gist, I can't find it. But the message was so powerful! We don't have to commit to anything forever, and I think the mistake in the narrative about marriage, kids, living alone....anything, is that in order to choose a choice, we must be unwavering in our defence of that choice. Why can't we say we're not sure? Obviously kids are forever, but living alone doesn't have to be.
I think it's interesting that all the comments I've read here have equated living alone to being alone almost all of the time? When I lived alone (and omg, did I ever have a ball), I was having friends over *all the time*!! I'd make a quick pasta, order in, or play cards with a friend at least once a week. It was so liberating to do this on my own terms - no bf to listen in to private girl-chats, no guilt about taking up communal space, no need to wash dishes after a late night - and it really enriched my friendships. As a work-at-home freelancer, I'd also invite fellow freelancers over for co-working days. Was awesome!
I live in Berlin and have at least 10 friends that live alone. It's much less prohibitive here cost-wise. There'e no real status attached to it, many people are just as delighted with their WGs (Wohngemeinschaft - flat share) or living with their partner.
My advice to the person asking the initial question? Dance terribly to bad songs, move your furniture around whenever you want, have friends over to do either boring or fun tasks together, be naked, be strangely clothed...and, my favourite: go out to drinks with friends. Have exactly 4 drinks. Come home tipsy. Turn on your fairy lights or light some candles and listen to Lana Del Rey on your sound system, drinking red wine, feeling extremely mysterious and alive, and watch the moon. I feel living alone helped me find little moments where I felt vibrantly, passionately myself. I hope you find these too :)